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Moving the Capital Of Kazakhstan From Almaty To Astana

Borat the Movie put Kazakhstan on the map, but there is plenty more to discover about this oil-rich Central Asian country, which recently moved its capital.

When people mention Kazakhstan, Borat is more often than not the first thing that comes to mind, but there are fascinating things happening in this oil-rich country, the world's ninth largest. Kazakhstan's 15.8 million population has seen some major changes in the last two decades as President Nazerbayev has both ruled with an iron fist and spread the oil wealth into various pet projects, the most notable of which was moving the capital of Kazakhstan from Almaty to Astana in 1997.

Move Over Ottawa, Astana Is The Second Coldest Capital City

Justifications for the move from Almaty, close to the Chinese border, to a settlement in the middle of the harsh steppe, included the potential vulnerability of a capital so close to a border, the potential dangers of having a capital city in a seismic zone and the lack of expansion possibilities due to the mountainous terrain. Another possible explanation could be a desire to harmonise the ethnic mix in the northern regions, whose majority Russian population might then be less inclined to entertain separatist thoughts. The choice of new seat of government has not necessarily been popular with officials, as Astana is officially the second coldest capital in the world, after Ulan Bator In nearby Mongolia.

Almaty To Astana - The Building Of A Capital

Whatever the reasons, the speed and results of the project have been astonishing. The population grew to 281,000 by 1999 (1), while the almost 700,000 inhabitants (2) in 2007 showed Kazakhs (at 41%) as the largest ethnic group. An estimated 8% of the national budget has been allocated on creating a modern city with a combination of Islamic, Soviet, Western and futuristic influences, with international experts from various fields, tempted by the rewards of the petrodollar, pouring in to Kazakhstan. Astana may not be Dubai, but some of the work done deserves similar attention.

The Architecture Of Sir Norman Foster

Some of the more eye-catching buildings have been influenced by the work of famous British architect Sir Norman Foster. His works include the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, or Pyramid of Peace, a 62m high pyramid which houses an opera house, library, museum of culture, research centre and sections for all the major religions of the world. Another stunning Foster creation is the Khan Shatyry Entertainment Centre, the tallest tensile building in the world.

Another innovative Foster design is the Abu Dhabi Plaza which the company's website describes as "a staggered matrix of buildings with a retail and leisure podium and a hotel cluster at the base that rises to form a series of office and residential towers to the north - creating a new landmark on Astana’s skyline. The retail podium contains elements which are a reinvention of a traditional marketplace and also incorporate a light rail station and public square."

The most prominent of all the new constructions, however, is the imposing Bayterek Observation Tower, whose 97m high observation deck is a popular tourist attraction. The structure, a tall shaft, with tree-like branches housing a gold-mirrored egg, symbolising Samruk, the magic bird of happiness, laying its egg on the magic tree of life.

In an era of public spending cuts and general recession, the construction on the Kazakh steppe is fascinating to watch, an example of how to entertain a presidential whim, backed by bottomless oil dollars. Just don't forget your coat!

Last modified onSaturday, 10 August 2013 17:45

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Paul Bradbury

About Paul Bradbury

Author of Lebanese Nuns Don't SkiLavender, Dormice and a Donkey Named Mercedes and the Hvar's first comprehensive guidebook, Hvar: An Insider's Guide to Croatia's Premier Island, I have lived in Dalmatia full time since 2003 and run various tourism information websites about Hvar, Split and Zagora, and am co-author of Split: An Insider's Guide with Mila Hvilshoj.

I also have various blogging clients, including the Central Dalmatia Tourist Board, Restaurant Gariful, Hvar Adventure, Villas Hvar and Andro Tomic Wines, and print clients include Qatar Airways inflight magazine, Out! magazine from New York, and Croatian Hotspots. 

I also provide website content services, including Agroturizam Pharos, Toto's Restaurant, European Coastal Airlines, Restaurant Gariful and Divota Aparthotel. Please contact me if you would like help with your website content.

I also write for Google News via Digital Journal - see my range of articles here

Ongoing writing projects:

A History of Hajduk Split, co-author with Frane Grgurevic

Around the World in 80 Disasters

Total Hvar in the Media:

Interview of the Month, Croatian Embassy in Washington (May 2013)

Special Feature in Globus Magazine (May 2013)

Featured on Croatian TV show, More (2012) - watch the report here

4-page special in Nedjelji Jutarnji, Croatia's leading paper (August 2014)

Interviews in Slobodna Dalmacija, Dalmacijanews, Radio Split

I am available for writing services. Please contact me on [email protected] 

Other websites:

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Total Inland Dalamtia - 

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